MANILA, Philippines – The government accused China last Wednesday of continuing massive reclamation work and development projects in the disputed waters of the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines, together with its ally the US, expressed deep concern over the man-made islets which appeared to be functional for military purposes. Officials from both the Philippines and the US undertook a two-day strategic meeting which aimed to strengthen the two countries’ defense and alliance.
“It’s 50 percent complete. It’s alarming in the sense that it could be used for purposes other than peaceful,” Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief General Pio Gregorio Catapang said in a media gathering, mentioning data gathered from the military’s sustained air and maritime patrols.
Evan Garcia, Philippines Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, said that the reclamation activities were ‘not a positive development to promote common interests’ as there had been international calls to stop the reclamation.
“We have reaffirmed our continuing concern over the destabilizing activities that are contrary to the Declaration of the Code of the Conduct in the South China Sea, as well as international law,” he said in a press conference, citing China and South East states’ agreement in 2002 restricting the building of new structures until a binding code of conduct is in place.
“Just look at the photographs, these are huge activities that are designed to change the status quo. It is not helpful in terms of finding a way forward and it is not an example of what anybody would understand as self-restraint” he added, pointing to several aerial photographs obtained by the country’s intelligence sources.
When asked regarding the progress of the reclamation, Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino refused to give details but said that it has ‘grown’ and was ‘very serious.’
Last October and November 2014, Philippine aerial surveillance caught photographs which showed buildings, ports and what appeared to be an airstrip that were already constructed in China’s man-made islet which was also seen to have expanded five times in size.
“It is just a matter of time before these Chinese reclaimed features will be ready for occupancy,” a security official said.
China claimed that the reclamation was under their jurisprudence as historical records and ancient maps pointed out that various islands, shoals and reefs in the Spratly Islands were under their ownership.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claimed territories in the region believed to contain minerals and oil and gas deposits.
With report from Cyra Moraleda